How to Keep Your Sanity When You Work From Home

August 18th 2015

Freelance journalists, self-employed programmers, independent contractors, event planners, artists, and employees whose companies allow them to telecommute are all on the list: more and more people are setting up shop, marketing their services and working from the comfort of their own home.

According to Global Workplace Analytics data from September 2013, 2.8 million self-employed people consider home their primary work location. As do 3.3 million employees that consider home their primary place of work, excluding self-employed or unpaid volunteers. From 2005 to 2012 telecommuting increased by 79 percent, which is likely connected to advances in telecommunication, cloud computing and mobile technology, changing workplace policies, shifting perceptions, and the actuality of a globalized workforce.

A partnership between Stanford University and China’s largest travel agency, Ctrip, wielded an experiment of 250 workers—half working in the office, half at home. Notable results include the home-based employees worked 9.5 percent longer than office employees and were 13 percent more productive.

The stereotype for employees who work from home is shifting to the work-from-home parent or the 20-something writer (raising my hand). The typical telecommuter is in their 40s earning about $58,000 each year working for a company with more than 100 employees.

Employees who work from home can save companies in retention rates, office overhead and lost productivity on sick days. While this is an example of how the economy has and will continue to shift, this shift comes with the unexpected challenges that rise while working from home.

Yes, friends in the skyscraper cubicle culture may pass you a slight sideways glance of envy over happy hour cocktail as you all talk shop. But, outside of the traditional office culture, a place where the “work time” mindset begins to set in on the daily commute, it can be challenging to set-up those same, necessary boundaries.

There are real benefits.

Working from home can be cost effective (hello, tax write-off), a time saver from the hour-long commute, and may facilitate a better work-life balance.

The balancing act comes into play.

Doing business in your living space can also be an incredibly challenging mental game. Distractions take form in the dishes and that second load of laundry and the dust that always seems to build up on the top of all the shelves. Productivity can get kicked by that extra long workout that cut into the day or taking the dog on yet another walk or prepping food for dinner that night. Basically every chore of adulthood you never want to do on the weekend becomes prime distraction activity.

If this describes the real struggle you deal with then it is time to change the environment. And, if you are going to spend more time doing work (as the studies say) then you need to pay extra attention to the physical space that work in before additional detrimental habits or distractions begin to develop.

Before you begin to make changes evaluate what your daily tasks and needs are, consider these questions:

  • What supplies do you need to have on hand?
  • What types of environments keep you calm and engaged?
  • Will clients be visiting you in your space?
  • Do you plan on having video conferences in your space?

5 ways to change your office area set-up:

1. Go green

Plants, beyond their aesthetic quality, can actually boost the ability to maintain concentrated attention. Bring the outdoors inside and allow nature to remind you that the world is much bigger and more beautiful than the dreaded spreadsheet you have to update again.

Add some greenery in with plants that do not require a lot of tending to. For example, aloe, jade plant, peace lily and snake plant are all easy house guests that won’t demand lots of watering daily. Some plants will even help to improve the air quality inside your office space like the Boston fern with its frilly long fronds or the lush leaves and white flowers of the Sweet Chico plant.

2. Open the window

Lighting is important. For some reason it just makes sense to fit the corners of a desk in with the corners of a wall, similar to a game of home office Tetris. However if this corner of the room does not have natural light, then that can be detrimental to workflow and job satisfaction. Place your workspace parallel to the windows so that natural light and air flow reach you, while also allowing you a scene for viewing away from the computer when you need a break. Situate the space so glare from the natural sunlight does not occur and you are not distracted by any sights or sounds outside.

Even if your office is near natural light, it is essential to invest in adequate lighting for nighttime and cloudy days. Ergonomics come into play with lighting fixtures that offer a dimmer so you can shift how much light is needed.

Remember to not place lighting right above your work area to reduce screen glare and avoid eyestrain.

3. Smart storage

Depending on your job you may need bulky equipment that’s less than appealing to look at. If the printer/fax machine makes you cringe each time you pass it, consider installing it in a small nearby closet. Perhaps a small one will fit within a bookcase where you can also store supplies, industry-centric books and necessary hard copies.

4. Sweet Scents

There is perhaps nothing worse in a close quarters office then the smelly leftovers your desk neighbor brought for lunch that lingers about for hours after, or maybe that one colleague’s overpowering cologne that whisks into your space when he walks by and then refuses to drift away.

So really, you should congratulate yourself. In your home workspace you have the majority of the control on how it smells. Light a candle with a soothing neutral scent—lavender, vanilla, fresh linen. If you’re worried about knocking a flame over onto your computer consider plugging in a wickless candle warmer. If incense is your thing, light a stick in the room, but away from your desk as so not to overpower your senses.

5. Color Me Happy

Colors have a psychological impact on the body. Soothing colors can calm while intense hues can energize. If you have the ability to change the color of your office area walls think twice before splattering just any paint swatch. Consider combining an accent such as yellow (an attention grabber but also anxiety inducer), red (energetic and also a producer of strong feelings) or purple (an imagination stimulator) with a comfortable neutral tone that will not distract such as white, ivory, beige or gray. Avoid the calming, cool tones of blue, light green and violet. These colors can be so calming they result in a cooler workplace, better for inducing sleep instead of productivity.

Essential Interior Design

Make your home office work for you by investing in a few quality pieces that enliven your space and allow you to decrease distractions. Ergonomically friendly tools such as certain chairs, foot and wrist rests, and adjustable desks can make large changes. Remember to set-up a cozy space with whatever works for reading, relaxing, and recharging.

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